By Jennifer Taylor
In his book Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations, author Dan Kimball asserts that “postmodern” worship, “emerging” worship, or “multisensory” worship should not be viewed as just a trendy new option for weekend programming. “As you rethink worship past the surface, you will find that the changes needed for the emerging church and worship go far beyond changing musical styles,” he writes. “It’s also not about adding candles. It is about rethinking how we approach our theology of church.”
In other words, changing the model for “doing church” can lead to changes in the weekend worship gathering—changes that have less to do with dimming the lights or adding a prayer station and more to do with bigger issues of participation, leadership, and community.
Several Christian churches are demonstrating this approach. The worship gathering, or “equipping assembly,” at Christ’s Community in Price Hill (Cincinnati, Ohio) includes many postmodern elements: teams take turns planning and serving Communion in creative ways, a number of men share responsibility for teaching, and services take place in a 120-year-old building of stained glass and dark wood. Plants and small trees add a “prayer garden” feel to the rooms and a crown of thorns, wedding dress, throne, and other objects contribute symbolic meaning.
In addition to the weekly worship services, Christ’s Community hosts two hours of prayer and worship each Thursday afternoon; during this unstructured time participants pray silently and in groups, confess sins to each other, read Scripture, and play music together.
But these worship elements spring from a more global philosophy of ministry. The congregation began as a small group affiliated with Community Christian Church in northern Kentucky.
In 2003, after the original group multiplied, the elders at Community commissioned the small groups as a network of house churches and a new congregation.
Today 80 people of many different ages worship, provide free meals to the community, assist with a Guatemalan church sharing their building, and serve with other groups in the city. The house churches meet throughout the week for study and shepherding.
“Groups of people in larger churches are questioning the money and effort put into buildings, programming, and the ‘Sunday morning show,’” says Ken Read, a leader at Christ’s Community and a professor at Cincinnati Christian University. “Many people want something simpler and more organic, with opportunities to develop real intimacy with others. That’s much easier in our structure of small house churches.”
The Encounter service at GracePointe Christian Church in Fishers, Indiana, also reflects a postmodern craving for simplicity and personal relationships. Rick Clayton, minister of worship and creative arts, wrote about the service in a 2004 issue of Christian Standard, and Encounter continues to evolve as Clayton and other leaders refine the purpose.
The service still includes moments of silence, Scripture, and responsive reading. To facilitate dialogue, however, the gathering now includes a focus on discussion. “When we’ve finished the gospel passage, we enter into what I call ‘Our Life in Christ, Our Life in the World,’” Clayton says. “We [discuss] the Scriptures and how they inform our understanding of current world events and our personal struggles and celebrations. . . . We sit in a circle, hold hands during prayers, sing benedictions and doxologies together, and have discovered a new level of intimacy with one another as well.”
So even as “emerging” emerges as a style, advocates of this type of worship look beyond weekend services. “We cannot focus primarily on what to do stylistically, methodologically, or philosophically in the weekend worship gathering,” Kimball writes. “We first need to ask what the ‘church’ is. Then we need to ask how the weekend worship gathering fits within the church’s life and spiritual formation.”
For leaders accustomed to viewing weekend services as the foundational activity of church life, this new paradigm may be uncomfortable. But many congregations connecting with postmoderns are attracting them not only to worship experiences but to deeper involvement in the church body. “There’s this feeling of ‘What else do you have?’” says Read. “It’s about relationships, not programs.”
Jennifer Taylor, our regular Buzz columnist and a Christian Standard contributing editor, posts entries to her blog at https://christianstandard.com/WriteAboutNow.asp.